Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays' take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘planning

Spontaneous Trip

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With only the briefest of forethought, yesterday afternoon I decided to drive up to the lake with the fire-pit benches I built last fall. It was windy and a little wet at home, but I didn’t give much consideration to how different it might be a hundred miles north. I drove right into some serious falling snow that occasionally dropped visibility to nothing but the car in front of me.

In addition to the wild weather, I rolled up to a road closure that offered very poor signage about a detour option. A simple trip to the lake place became an adventure I hadn’t anticipated.

Ultimately, I made it to the intended destination safe and sound, but as I traveled up the gravel entrance toward the house there were branches down everywhere on the ground. Then, limbs. Then, trees! There must have been quite a wind event up here recently.

Between the snow and branches, I decided not to bother immediately placing the benches I brought. They can stay in the garage for now, if  I can even get them out of the car. It took me four tries to reverse Jenga® them far enough inside that the hatch could close.

They were built for the fire pit, not to nest inside of each other cleanly. The increasing width of the legs combined with the lower cross supports makes navigating the opening an exercise in advanced geometric problem-solving.

Or, in my case, trial and error.

It worked to get them in there. It’ll work to get ’em out again. No matter how many tries it takes me.



Written by johnwhays

April 15, 2022 at 6:00 am

Counting Bales

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The way I view it, managing the inventory of hay bales to feed horses is an imprecise science. Whether guided toward serving sizes by weight or “flakes” from the bale, there is widely varying uniformity of both and an uncertain outcome of which horse will eat it and when they do, how much they will consume. Horses we’ve had all seem content to spill and waste as much as they actually eat.

I was once told that if horses get hungry enough, they will eat whatever is served. Given that ours are recovering from a variety of levels of neglect, we’d rather not put them in that level of desperation. Not sharing the same sense of smell as a horse leaves me wondering when they are ignoring a serving because they don’t like the smell.

Cyndie is much quicker than me to declare a bale as “bad” because it is musty, moldy or smells dusty. That hay gets tossed for some other purpose, usually, landfill somewhere on our property.

All that makes it hard for me to judge if we have enough or how urgently we need to bring more in. Today we are basing it on the space we have for storage. As the stock in our hay shed has dropped to a single layer, we have put in the call for another delivery.

Of course, in order to reduce it to one layer, I needed to move 42 bales into the barn. I also ended up rearranging the scrap lumber stored on the right side of the hay shed to create more space for stacking new bales.

The floor of the hay shed is dirt and we put down pallets under the bottom layer of bales, hoping some air beneath them will reduce mold development. It doesn’t really work. As we ended up doing in the past, we’ve decided to leave the bottom layer of old musty bales in place this time and stack the new incoming bales on top of them.

It’s a treat that we don’t need to do the work of lifting and hauling the hundreds of new bales that will be arriving but it is not lost on me that I will be lifting and stacking them all five-high in the shed.

Yesterday was just a warmup for a much bigger upper body workout to come. Hopefully, these bales will all smell perfect to Cyndie and the horses.



Empty Coop

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It wasn’t long ago that we were renovating the coop in preparation for housing the two groups of chicks at the same time when we moved them out of their respective brooders.

Now the coop stands empty. On Sunday, my brother and his wife stopped by to pick up the three survivors of the massacre that took out 22 chickens.

The ghost predators that have been taking advantage of us for several months will not find one more chicken dinner here this year. Maybe that will provide incentive for them to move on to some other property.

We will take a year off to mull over the possibility of trying again. At this point, it feels like our methods will need to involve something less than free-ranging given the increasing priority of not experiencing any more losses like we’ve endured this year.



Written by johnwhays

July 27, 2021 at 6:00 am

Mentally Preparing

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Today is my last workday before I leave for my bike trip and it is obvious to me that I will not have all my work done before I go. When you can’t change something, acceptance becomes an attractive option. There will be plenty to do when I return.

Yesterday after work, I did some of the dustiest mowing in my life. The dryness resulted in clouds of soil dust covering me and the tractor. Much sneezing ensued, but I am very happy to have that task checked off my list.

I’m mentally preparing myself for being away from our animals in the coming days by thoroughly appreciating every moment with them before I go. As I mowed along the perimeter of the back pasture, the horses came over very intentionally to graze near the fence as I passed.

We are definitely developing a bond with them.

The area around the chicken coop has been receiving increasing pressure from the raccoons during the nights. We’ve reached the point where we might have to give up on this idea of coexisting with the masked bandits.

Both groups of chicks continue to grow so much every day it seems like the Rockettes will never catch up to the older Buffalo gals.

It’ll be Cyndie’s decision if she decides to try merging them while I am away, but I’m guessing that will be unlikely.

She may be too busy trying to keep up with the produce coming from the garden. Salads have been locally sourced lately.

Those peas are so prolific we almost have more than we know what to do with already.

The lettuce is superb. What a treat!

Meanwhile, my mind is trying to run through all the things I need to gather for successfully tent camping and biking for days in a row. It’s not like I haven’t done this trip before, but it has been an extra year since the last one.

The clock is ticking on my days of planning. Tomorrow, Cyndie will drive me to Hastings and drop me, my bike, and camping gear off and I’ll consider myself on vacation.

It’s a green vacation, too. All these people riding bikes for days instead of driving their cars.

We haven’t had any measurable rain for weeks. What are the odds that will change while we are on the road?

I need to mentally prepare for the possibility.



Written by johnwhays

June 17, 2021 at 6:00 am

Self Taught

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The Buffalo gals taught themselves to climb their ramp into the coop at dusk! I had just arrived upon the scene as Cyndie was working to find a hole in the netting that would explain how one of the Rockettes ended up hanging out against the outside of the courtyard fencing. I did a quick head-count of both sets of chicks and walked around to where Cyndie was working.

The next time I looked in on the Buffalo gals, they were gone. All 12 had headed inside by their own volition.

That left the Rockettes to be tested with our new idea of herding them to their ramp to see if they would take the hint to climb up on their own. Very quickly half of them did take that hint, but the rest were a harder sell.

They seemed much more interested in cowering underneath their ramp and unleashing a cacophony of chirping. A modicum of hands-on support helped convey the intent and soon all birds were cooped for the night.

I think they will catch on to the ultimate routine soon, but further lessons will be delayed until after the weekend. Our trusty animal sitter is on duty starting today as we are off to the lake for a few days again. My birthday buddy, Paul, and his wife, Beth, are joining us up at Wildwood. There’ll be some biking happening, as I need to put on some miles in preparation for day-long riding beginning in a week on the 2021 Tour of Minnesota.

I wonder where I stashed my tent two years ago after the last Tour.

That ability I have to forget stuff… self-taught, I’m pretty sure.

I can’t really remember.



Written by johnwhays

June 11, 2021 at 6:00 am

Like Christmas

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One week away and it’s occasionally feeling like Christmas is drawing near, except it’s as if it is on the other side of a blurry sneeze guard.

Cyndie and I tolerated a COVID Thanksgiving all by ourselves as well as can be expected. Doing so again for Christmas just a month later is proving to be a little more distressing. Plans are being considered to choreograph separate socially distanced and masked visits but every option is a frustrating variation of the same fiasco.

Why is it so hard to take a year off from normal activities?

I find taking a long view makes it easier for me to accept, but it comes at the cost of glossing over more immediate events. It’s a defensive mechanism, I suppose. I don’t feel as much stress over the loss of normalcy this Christmas when I’m framing the isolation as a step toward having life back to usual next year.

I am prepared to do absolutely nothing with no one for as long as it takes to reach the point where pandemic is no longer a thing.

The day that the use of face masks is declared a thing of the past will feel like Christmas, no matter what month it is at the time.




Written by johnwhays

December 18, 2020 at 7:00 am

Tuesday Before

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‘Twas the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and all through the house

all the creatures were stirring because they knew something weird was up!

No one is coming and we’re going to stay home

the pandemic is raging so we’ll feast all alone.

A pandemic Thanksgiving is a very strange thing. It does feel like a holiday week, except for the part where it doesn’t feel like a holiday at all. So far, our family has been lucky. Every time I have started to think I might be getting sick, it turned out to be a false alarm. To the best of my knowledge, neither of Cyndie’s nor my family members have needed to be hospitalized.

The reports getting more and more exposure on the news from doctors and nurses who are burdened with caring for the rapidly growing number of patients who need intensive care are heartbreaking. I can imagine how frustrating it must be to head home from a long shift of being over-worked and driving past locations where people can be seen gathering together and/or not wearing masks in behavior that comes across as disrespectful of the perils and subsequent burdens that fall squarely on the front line healthcare workers.

There is such a disconnect among people with varying levels of concern.

One nurse said they have to eat like snakes. With no time to take breaks, they grab food when they can and swallow it in one bite so they can get back to tending to someone struggling to breathe.

Meanwhile, retail industries are advertising holiday sales like nothing is amiss, hoping to avoid financial collapse of their own businesses by propping up a facade that everything is just fine. Keep shopping!

Just don’t hoard paper products or cleaning supplies.

Who would have guessed that toilet paper would become a treasured stocking stuffer for Christmas?

I’m still commuting to the day job, where stress is high, but looking forward to staying away from people for the coming long weekend. Cyndie has stocked our shelves with ingredients to entertain us both with her culinary arts.

The entertainment of watching spectator sports played in empty stadiums hasn’t hooked me as a desired distraction so I expect I will lose myself in more books and movies or take some deep dives in my music library this weekend.

Think of all the gas we are saving by staying home.

Let’s all offer a toast to the doctors and nurses who are working harder than ever in conditions that are riskier than ever this Thanksgiving.

Maintain safe social distances in their honor and remember to give thanks for every blessing that can still be found, even in an otherwise difficult year.



Written by johnwhays

November 24, 2020 at 7:00 am

Changed Plans

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How many times lately have we heard that plans have changed? More than a few, I dare say. It reaches a point where I’m finding myself less inclined to make any future plans of substance. My 6-month dental checkup and cleaning appointment due in March was rescheduled when the shutdowns started occurring.

I LOVE the feeling after having my teeth professional cleared of plaque and asked for the next earliest appointment. They gave me Tuesday, May 19. Last Thursday, the scheduler called me to cancel that appointment and said they can’t even guess when the next possible chance will be.

Yesterday, I had planned to connect the chipper to the diesel tractor PTO to convert those tree branches to woodchips before the coming rain arrived. The weather allowed the whole day as the precipitation didn’t begin until dusk. The tractor did not cooperate. It was rather depressing.

I am not a tractor mechanic, but I am willing to naively explore possible solutions to problems. My best guess is that one of the multiple safety interlocks is keeping the starter from working. It’s actually happened before. The very first time I tried to start the tractor, I couldn’t get it to work. The seller had just changed the battery and assured me he would pay to have a service person look at it.

That technician arrived and immediately put the tractor on his flatbed truck, but decided to try one last time before hauling to the shop. It fired right up. I asked what he did differently than me and he said he didn’t know. We assumed it was making sure the gears and PTO were properly in the off/neutral position.

Last year, this happened to me again, but I persevered and after multiple tries, it fired up. Problem was forgotten.

Until yesterday. I tried the same thing over and over again so many times I surpassed the “insanity” definition ten times over. I finally broke down and called my next-door neighbor for advice. He knows tractors as a guy who collects them, refurbishes them, and buys and sells them. He even owns the exact same New Holland model as mine, among his many International Harvester collection.

Diagnosing remotely, he worried about the battery, since I admitted I hadn’t ever cleaned the connections. Well, his concern was well placed, as the neglect was evident and cleaning was warranted. But it wasn’t the problem.

I tracked wires and disconnected and reconnected junctions. While rummaging around beneath the belly of the beast, I found how much corrosion resulted from the mess after the valve stem broke on the liquid-filled tire last year. I spent hours tinkering cluelessly, interspersed with the repeated insanity of positioning and repositioning the PTO lever that I think is the problem. Nothing changed.

Eventually, I gave in to a change of plan and moved on to something else to salvage some glimmer of accomplishment for the day. I removed 24 blocks from six pallets that got added as eight rows to our boardwalk in the woods on our main perimeter trail.

That will be valuable since we’ve already received 1.5″ of rain overnight and it’s still falling.

I plan to call a professional to service the tractor.



Not Knowing

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If only we knew. Have I been infected? Do I have antibodies? Will illness strike someone I know? Will the economic depression last very long? Will the food supply chain normalize? Will hospitals near me become overrun? When I get the virus will I have no symptoms, or will I need to be hospitalized? Will there be a second wave?

Thus far, the COVID-19 pandemic has barely impacted my life. I could avoid contributing to the oversaturation of media information on the topic and only write about home projects and the weather as if there is no life-altering virus outbreak disrupting the world all the while. I’d prefer that, actually. But the reality is, there is an undulating ripple that is disturbing the universal foundation of how everything used to work, which makes pretending there isn’t seem conspicuously disingenuous.

Of greater distress to me than not knowing the answers to all the questions in my first paragraph is the growing reality that I no longer have plans on the calendar for going out with friends or family for dinner to celebrate events, or for going to see live music performances, or to go to the lake this summer, or take a week off work to go biking and camping with friends.

We don’t know what we are going to be doing next week, next month, all summer, or next year. That puts a real crimp in the realm of feeling hopeful and inspired.

It’s just not very sexy to replace that kind of hope with the more realistic desires of hoping we all get through this alive and with some semblance of our incomes, assets, and health still intact.

I struggle with a little guilt over feeling like I would prefer to just get the virus and be forced to stay home and do nothing for two weeks just so I could have a few days of certainty and also a little justification for allowing myself to lay in bed until I honestly didn’t want to anymore.

I’m tired. I don’t want to simply appreciate the sunlight shining on the newly blossoming flowers. Dewdrops on the grass. Pond frogs starting to sing again.

I don’t want to meditate on the zen of not knowing.

Well, maybe I do want a little of that meditation, especially in place of hearing one more government briefing about how they are going to ramp up testing or whether or not it is wise to speculate about injecting disinfectant that works on hard surfaces into human bodies.

Is it possible to inhale UV light? That might work.

I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be sarcastic.

I feel for those who suffer every day with the fear of getting infected and for the people who are already suffering significant financial disruptions. As well, for those who are needing to work long hours for days and weeks on end at higher risk of infection to care for seriously ill patients.

Here’s to achieving the art of finding peace with not always knowing.



Written by johnwhays

April 28, 2020 at 6:00 am

Big Think

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I’m not sure about the trick of living in the moment while trying to make big decisions that have the potential of dramatically changing the rest of my life, but that is the reality that simmers beneath my every minute lately. As Cyndie slips ever deeper into focusing her time on caring for her parents, decisions being contemplated have the potential of defining whether we will stay on this property or go.

There is a challenging balance in a committed relationship of cultivating what we want together as a couple while also honoring each of our individual desires. That would be made a little easier if we both definitively knew what it was we wanted the rest of our functional years to look like.

I had no idea that our empty-nest years would lead to the gorgeous property we found that became our Wintervale. The seed for this dream originated from a supernatural meld of both Cyndie’s and my interests and experiences, but I would not have arrived at this point without her energy driving most of the outcomes.

That same inclination has me leaning toward following her lead again as her focus has changed, despite my heart increasingly being gripped by the sanctuary of the forests and fields, and beautiful log home where we’ve been living for the last seven years. If I could figure out a way to afford it, I’d stay here even if she moved in with her parents –sighting the year we lived apart when she moved to Boston as a case study precedent– but that might be at odds with achieving our best long-term joint effort.

Neither of us knows how well our health will hold out, how climate catastrophes will impact the coming years, whether our meager retirement accounts will protect us from the next recession, or what future life events will demand our attention, but those unknowns are all lumped into our thinking as we consider the big “what next.”

I want to also include the simple joys of standing still in the woods and listening to the natural sounds that surround me. Breathing in the forest aromas and feeling the reality of temperature and precipitation against my skin. Walking over the rise in our open fields to feel the wind when it blows, or the stillness when it doesn’t.

At the same time, I’ve lived in town and know the conveniences associated. I would welcome the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and return to riding my bike more than driving my car.

I tell ya, living in the moment of planning the future is one heck of a big think.



Written by johnwhays

January 12, 2020 at 8:57 am